See catalog for prices

This seven inch diameter footed bowl with hinged tin lid was known in its day as a cracker bowl or bar sugar.

Cracker bowl (13K)

The original use of antique objects is often lost to time. Without its lid this bowl might be called a small compote or footed bowl. However, with fitted metal lid and rim it was clearly made for some special purpose.

The riddle is solved by a rare illustrated trade catalog issued in 1875 by Bakewell, Pears and Co. of Pittsburgh. Alongside several other "cracker bowls or bar sugars" on page 38 is a "10 in Plain (Hand made) Bowl. Tin Cover." While the example above has room for just one hinged lid, the larger example in the illustration had two.

Cracker bowl or bar sugar, Bakewell Pears and Co. catalog, 1875, courtesy Thomas Pears IV

(Image courtesy Thomas Pears IV)

Hinged metal lids were considerably more expensive than glass lids. An 1868 catalog of the same firm listed 7 inch plain bowls at 80c each without lids, $1.13 with glass lids, and $1.85 for an example such as this with "Planished Tin Cover." Pressed glass examples with and without glass lids were slightly cheaper and sold by the dozen.

The term "bar sugar" reveals that this bowl, like many other items in these catalogs and of earlier years, was as likely for use in a bar or hotel as in a home. With its proportionately large foot and low, heavy, baluster-knopped stem, it would have been appropriate for a bar on a steamboat or railroad car.

Beyond their value to glass scholarship, trade catalogs give a wonderful glimpse of nineteenth century life. They give names to familiar forms and patterns, reveal that blown and pressed glass were similarly priced, and show the wide variety of uses to which glass was put.

Reprints of the 1864 and 1875 Bakewell, Pears and Co. trade catalogs can be obtained from Thomas Pears IV at tompears.com.